By Amelia Chaplin

 

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…a peregrine falcon?  Have you ever been out for a hike and come across something amazing that you couldn’t identify? Maybe it was an animal, an insect, a mushroom, or any number of trees. Well, it turns out there’s an app for that!

iNaturalist is a free mobile application where users upload nature photos and information, which are then accessed and reviewed by other accredited users. It’s like having a scientist in your back pocket!  Through this app, novice citizen scientists can contribute valuable observations to help expand the understanding of the distribution of animal and plant species for iNaturalist’s expert users.

Parks Canada’s Resource Conservation teams, as well as private researchers and conservation groups, make use of iNaturalist data to enhance the scope of their work. By crowdsourcing the field work, this app alleviates challenges related to accessing remote regions, short field seasons, and limited resources. Verified scientists and professionals, including those at Parks Canada, can also upload data which general users are not able to view in order to protect the location of rare species. This allows for ecologically critical, sensitive, or vulnerable species information to be protected from too much visitation.

How does iNaturalist confirm the accuracy of its data if it’s accessible to the public and its data is mostly peer reviewed? The app has two main safeguards to ensure accuracy. Observations are either confirmed through peer review, or are reviewed by professional scientists. Observations confirmed by professionals are designated as “research grade”. These are then geo-tagged to a corresponding location on a map. Users can check the observations of any area by simply checking the map and clicking on the location tags. 

You can contribute to the important work of Parks Canada’s Resource Conservation teams. The first step is to download the app and register your account. Then you can upload your photo “observations” to your dashboard and label them. Other users may review your observation, and confirm your assessment or suggest an edit.

This app holds a plethora of potential uses for Parks Canada and its partners across Northern Ontario. iNaturalist is more than just a means to create and access scientific data.  It can enhance people’s understanding of, and connection to, remote environments, like the North Shore of Lake Superior, including Pukaskwa National Park and Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, which they might otherwise never visit.

So what are you waiting for? Get out and start recording what you see while you are exploring!

 

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